Edmonton

Postmedia hires former Kenney chief of staff to lobby on 'energy war room'

Postmedia has hired Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s former chief of staff to lobby the new United Conservative government on how how it could be involved with the new “energy war room" promised by Kenney during the recent Alberta election campaign. 

Nick Koolsbergen formed an Ottawa-based government relations firm this month

Nick Koolsbergen managed the United Conservative Party's successful Alberta election campaign. He is now the CEO of a Wellington Advocacy, a government relations firm. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC )

Canadian news media company Postmedia has hired Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's former chief of staff to lobby the new United Conservative government on how it could be involved with the new "energy war room" promised by Kenney during the recent Alberta election campaign.

Nick Koolsbergen became chief of staff for Kenney after he won the UCP leadership in the fall of 2017. Koolsbergen left that position in August 2018 to manage the United Conservative Party (UCP) election campaign.

After the UCP won 63 of 87 seats on April 16, Koolsbergen said he was moving into the private sector. He announced the formation of Wellington Advocacy with former Stephen Harper policy director Rachel Curran on May 6. Koolsbergen is also a veteran of Harper's PMO.

Postmedia owns newspapers across Canada, including the Edmonton Journal, the Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun.

"Postmedia has engaged Wellington Advocacy with respect to the commercial content area of the business and the previously announced Alberta government's energy war room," Phyllise Gelfand, Postmedia's vice-president of communications, said in a statement Friday.

The organization's Content Works division, which is separate from its news division, does content marketing, branded content and native advertising for corporate clients.

During the election campaign, Kenney promised to set up a "war room" to counter "lies" told about Alberta's energy industry. Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Tuesday that more information would be coming about the war room next week.

In a document filed Thursday with Alberta's lobbyist registry, Koolsbergen indicated he planned to talk to Premier Kenney's office and various government ministries about "ways Postmedia could be involved in the government's energy war room."

'Complete abrogation'

Curran said Wellington Advocacy doesn't comment publicly on its clients or the work it does for them.

"However, speaking generally, Wellington Advocacy was founded to help companies and candidates win high-stakes campaigns," she said in a statement.

"We engage in a range of advocacy work nationally to achieve the best policy and political outcomes for our clients, and we look forward to expanding upon our record of success. In particular, we look forward to doing everything we can to get the economy back on track for Canadian workers."

As of Friday, Koolsbergen and Wellington Advocacy have registered to represent three other clients in Alberta: Viking Air, the Motion Picture Association Canada and ACM LNG Limited Partnership.

According to Alberta's Office of the Ethics Commissioner, post-employment restrictions or cooling-off periods only apply to political staffers of premiers and cabinet ministers, not to staffers of opposition parties. 

A spokesperson for the premier said the government is talking to a number of stakeholders about the war room "and will look for the best use of resources in terms of how advertising dollars are spent."

Sean Holman, an associate professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary, calls it a scandal for Postmedia to pitch itself to the government.

He says the war room is a way for the UCP to suppress or punish free speech it doesn't like. 

"A news media organization that relies on free speech should not be in the business of supporting this kind of operation," Holman said. "This is a complete abrogation of the societal mandate that Postmedia should be upholding." 

Holman said Postmedia should consider how such possible deals will hurt the relationship it has with the readers of its newspapers.

"[The news media are] in the business, or should be in the business, of providing the truth," he said.

"And this is another reason for people to believe that we are actually in the business of providing biased information, and that's not good in this current post-truth era, where it's more important now than ever that the news media functions as a bastion of the truth against forces of authoritarianism that are threatening us."

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